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Entrepreneurial academics need support: FT.com / Business education / Soapbox – Entrepreneurial academics need support

FT.com / Business education / Soapbox – Entrepreneurial academics need support.

FT.com / Business education / Soapbox – Entrepreneurial academics need support.

It is a common lament that academics lack entrepreneurial flair. However, this perception appears to be far from reality. Drawing on a large-scale survey of thousands of UK academics sponsored by the Advanced Institute of Management Research we found that, on average, academics are five times more likely to be entrepreneurs than a member of the general public. Academic entrepreneurs are found in almost all disciplines, even the much maligned social sciences.

H/T: Sean Mulvany

From the Executive Summary:

Drawing on a unique set of surveys of academics funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), this report explores changes in the way academics engage with industry in the UK between 2004 and 2009. Although there are new and increasing pressures for academics to engage with industry, the nature and extent of this industry engagement remains an area of choice for individual academics. This report
documents how academics’ perceive working with industry and explores how academics manage and integrate these activities with their research and teaching efforts. It also examines the entrepreneurial efforts of UK academics. In doing so, it offers lessons for policy.
The key findings from the report are:
■ Industrial engagement is common among UK academics working in the engineering and physical sciences. The main forms of engagement are conferences and one-off research agreements such as joint research projects and contract research. Most academics engaged in one or two projects (consultancy, funded research or contract research) with industry over the past two years.
■ Levels of engagement with industry have increased over the past five years. UK academics appear to use more types of engagement with industry and more frequently than they did five years ago.
■ The barriers to engagement with industry remain and are largely concentrated in differences in orientation, including the time scale and nature of research, between academics and industry. In comparison with their industry collaborators, academics perceive few problems in engagement related to Intellectual Property (IP) or university rules and regulations.
■ Barriers to engagement appear to be falling over time as academics reported fewer barriers in the 2009 survey than in the 2004 survey. This result contrasts with the results of the industry survey of EPSRC collaborators, which shows an increasing volume of barriers to collaboration over the same period. These differences may reflect a divergence in collaboration experience between academics and industry.
■ The main factors the motivate engagement with industry are related to furthering of academics’ research activities, including securing additional research funding, and finding interesting and rewarding research problems. Few academics engage with industry for purely financial gain. The importance of these factors has remained relatively constant over time, but the importance of engaging with industry to build networks has increased.
■ Most academics feel supported by their department and their university for their engagement efforts with industry. However, few considered this activity as rewarded or valued by their department or university.
■ The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2008 appears to have had little negative impact on industry engagement as few academics indicating that the RAE forced them to reduce their engagement efforts. However, the RAE 2008 did lead to a third of academics shifting their publications away from more practitioner-oriented outlets.
■ UK academics appear to be highly entrepreneurial. A significant proportion are directly involved in developing new ventures. Respondents to the survey are almost five times more likely to be involved in entrepreneurial efforts than general members of the UK population.
■ There are significant differences in the rates of entrepreneurship between academics working in different disciplines.
■ The main motivations for starting a new venture among entrepreneurial academics are to develop their research into a practical application and to challenge themselves. The main barrier to entrepreneurship among academics is a lack of time and resources rather than lack of support from colleagues or their university.

Policy lessons arising from the research
■ Engagement of academics with industry is widespread, growing and underpinned by strong research. By international comparison, UK academics have relatively high levels of engagement with industry. Therefore, efforts to pressure academics to do more engagement may be based on an illusion that such interactions are uncommon.
■ These engagement efforts cover an array of methods and government policy should attempt to support all of these mechanisms rather than favouring single engagement channels, such as starting up new ventures.
■ Greater attention needs to be paid to the context that supports engagement by individuals, including the rewards and incentives offered by universities for these activities. Currently, such activities are perceived to be useful for research, but given little or no value by department and universities in their hiring and promotion policies.
■ The divergence of opinion between academics and industry about barriers to collaboration raises critical questions about the changing nature of exchange between universities and industry in the UK. It is important to look at both sides of the exchange process, as increasing levels of concern by industry bode ill for the future of such exchanges.
■ Despite policy concerns about the lack of entrepreneurial spirit among UK academics, the evidence suggests that entrepreneurial behaviour by academics is fairly common and well above national averages. However, differences between disciplines in rates of entrepreneurship suggest that external factors rather than individual characteristics drive the rate and direction of academic entrepreneurship. This suggests that policy measures need to be taken to create more opportunities for academics working in fields with little entrepreneurial opportunities. Creating more time, resources and support for academics to engage in venture creation, especially in disciplines where such activities are uncommon, may yield the greatest return to policy efforts.

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